Posted on August 30, 2019
The Pac-12 Era has been a roller coaster ride for Arizona Football. Since the Conference expanded to add Colorado and Utah in 2011, the Wildcats have been dealt their share of improbable wins and bizarre losses.
In Part 1 of this two-part series of flashback vignettes, I take you through the first six of 12 games that are sure to make Cat fans smile or groan.
Arizona 39, USC 36
Seven wins, 27 losses.
That was Arizona’s record against the Trojans heading into this game. Despite the atrocious ratio, the previous five games between the schools had been decided by less than a touchdown. The Wildcats knew they could win this one. And so did the Trojans.
Arizona began the day with a 4-3 overall record, 2-3 in Pac-12 play, and the fate of head coach Rich Rodriguez’s first season hung in the balance. It all came down to the final play, a breathtaking Hail Mary, mercifully batted down by the Wildcat defense.
The victory over the No. 9 Trojans began an improbable turnaround of Arizona Football, providing a hungry fanbase with the often-absent belief that better things were to come.
Arizona 49, Nevada 48
All legacies have to start somewhere, and Rodriguez’s lore at Arizona begins with the 2012 New Mexico Bowl. In fact, the impact of this game can’t be overstated. It was a key cog in the rebirth of the program based on a newly instilled culture of never giving up—a philosophy Rodriguez dubbed “60 Minutes of Arizona Football.”
That mindset would ultimately catapult the Cats into a 10-win season and Fiesta Bowl Appearance in 2014.
But the comeback that ignited the fuse came in the final game of the first year of the Rich Rodriguez Era. The win quenched a lingering thirst after the Mike Stoops Era had brought the program back to national prominence, only to deliver a series of soul-crushing defeats.
Down 13 points with less than two minutes to go, Arizona scored twice, recovered an onside kick, and sealed the game with an interception.
As much as the program needed this comeback, the fans may have needed it more. “Rich Rod” delivered on both fronts in what came to be known as The New Mexico Bowl Miracle.
Arizona 42, Oregon 16
What a way to go out.
In the last home game of Ka’Deem Carey’s career—on Senior Day, no less—the Wildcats stomped No. 5 Oregon. Carey scored four touchdowns, posting 206 yards rushing to become Arizona’s all-time leading rusher.
Weather-wise, it was one of the strangest games to be played in Tucson, since maybe the monsoon in the Wisconsin game in 2004. The Oregon game started off uncharacteristically cold and rainy for a November day in the Old Pueblo, and ended with familiar sunny skies and a classic Arizona sunset.
During warm-ups, the Oregon players were dropping pass after pass in front of the “Zona Zoo,” which began calling out each player’s number after failing to make a catch. The players seemed to enjoy the attention, interacting with students after dropping the balls. Clearly, these Ducks were over-confident after putting a 49-0 drumming on the Wildcats the previous year.
The wet weather contributed to a spectacular interception on the first play from scrimmage; one of the most impressive picks in recent memory. An Arizona defender batted Marcus Mariota’s pass from the sideline back into the hands of Scooby Wright III, who managed to pull it down in-bounds.
The play ignited the crowd, and the Wildcats never looked back.
As the clock expired at the end of the game, the student section rushed the field, taking down the goalposts to celebrate what had become a common occurrence in the Rodriguez Era: beating a Top 10 team at home.
Arizona 49, Cal 45
It was a typical late-night start for a football game in Tucson, with Arizona down 31-13 by the end of the third quarter, and the stadium all-but-empty.
Dejected fans who had seen such lackluster performances too often were hustling out. But die-hards who had been paying attention knew better. Rodriquez’s teams never gave up. There was always a chance to come back, no matter how slim.
The Wildcats rewarded the faithful with an explosion of 36 points in the fourth quarter, capped by an onside kick recovery that led to a high-arching prayer to the football gods.
The prayer was answered.
With no time left, quarterback Anu Solomon lofted a 47-yard pass into the end-zone, where Austin Hill was able to pull it down. The play crowned the most incredible comeback in Arizona football history, forever known as the “Hill Mary.”
Wildcat fans couldn’t be blamed for viewing 2014 as a year of destiny, preordained by some divine intervention as repayment for their pain and suffering over the past decade.
Arizona 31, Oregon 24
One such moment came to Arizona’s Scooby Wright III on a Thursday night in 2014 at Autzen Stadium, when he strip-sacked Marcus Mariota. His recovery of the subsequent fumble with two minutes left in the fourth quarter sealed an improbable Arizona victory over the No. 2 Oregon Ducks.
The win thrust the program into the national spotlight, launching a legitimate discussion about Arizona not only winning the Pac-12, but also making it into the first ever College Football Playoff.
For a fanbase that hadn’t experienced that type of success since Bill Clinton was President, the significance was earthshaking. Teams just don’t beat Oregon very often in Eugene. What Rodriguez was able to accomplish that night likely ranks among his most impressive accomplishments while at Arizona.
USC 28, Arizona 26
Five wins, zero losses.
Coming into this game, Arizona was undefeated, including a miracle victory over Cal, and a shocking upset over No. 2 Oregon. The Wildcats were ranked No. 10, and were on the brink of reaching their highest rating since 2010.
This time, unfortunately, the football gods were not on their side.
Arizona once again recovered an onside kick with a minute left and were driving down the field. But when the Cats lined up for what would have been the game-winning field goal, it sailed wide right.
Wildcat fans undoubtedly felt the moment in the pit of their stomachs. This was not supposed to happen. But some things just don’t work out, and for Arizona, it was one of those nights.
—Dane Miller Stories—
- A Little Offense will go a Long Way with Dominant Dawg ‘D’
- DTR, Defense Keys to Make-or-Break Season for Bruins
- USC Readying for Return to National Prominence
- Oregon State Chasing First Bowl Berth in 7 Years
- Pac-12 Favorite Oregon Eyeing Return to CFB Playoff
- Writers Roundtable: The Status of College Football
- 2020-21 Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Status, Part 3
- 2020-21 Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Status Report, Part 2
- 2020-21 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Status Report, Part 1
- Miller Mailbag: Projecting 2020-21 NCAA Tournament Teams
- Miller: 2020 Pac-12 NFL Draft Preview & Analysis
- Mailbag: Conference Game Losers & Bowl Results
- Miller: Pac-12 Early NBA Draft Entrants Analysis
- Q&A with Pac-12 Director of Communications Jesse Hooker
- Miller: 2018-19 Pac-12 Football Revenue Analysis
- Miller Mailbag: Utes Will Contend for Title in South
- Miller: NCAA’s Quick Decision Raises Questions
- Miller: Second-Round Tournament Preview
- Miller: First-Round Tournament Preview
- Miller: Ducks & Bruins Rise to Top of Pac-12
- Miller: ASU takes Control of the Conference
- Miller: Pac-12 Title Run Still Up for Grabs
- Miller: Surprise Losses Muddy Pac-12 Waters
- Miller: Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Race Tightens with Upsets
- Miller: Depth of Conference Being Tested
- Miller: Pac-12 Race Suddenly Wide Open
- Miller: Pac-12’s Middle Getting Crowded in Men’s Hoops
- Miller: Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Parity Already Apparent
- Miller: Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Still Coming Up Short
- Miller: Hot Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Turning Heads
- Miller: Missed Chances and Consequences
- Miller: Pac-12 Hoops Comes Down to Earth
- Miller: Pivotal Games Looming for Pac-12
- Miller: Pac-12 Basketball is Back…For Now
- Miller: Can Pac-12 Hoops Fix its Image Problem?
- Ranking the Top Seven Quarterbacks of the Pac-12 Era
- Unforgettable Wildcat Football Games (Part 2)
- Wildcats Kickoff 2019 at Dangerous Hawaii
- Ranking the Probable Pac-12 Quarterbacks for 2019
- Two Up, Two Down: Pac-12 Pairs Trending Opposite Directions
A Little Offense will go a Long Way with Dominant Dawg ‘D’If a quality quarterback emerges, Washington could find itself in contention for a North title - June 28, 2020
DTR, Defense Keys to Make-or-Break Season for BruinsChip Kelly's third season at UCLA figures to be the most pivotal of his tenure - June 21, 2020
USC Readying for Return to National ProminenceThe Trojans return plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball, but coaching will be the key - June 16, 2020